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Largest indigenous group refuses to negotiate until demands are met

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) announced Thursday that it would not join negotiations with the government until three conditions are met. Conaie, Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, criticized other indigenous and campesino organizations that are currently involved in talks mediated by the United Nations.

Conaie President Jaime Vargas

Conaie’s refusal to negotiate follows its release of 10 police officers it had held hostage for 12 hours in a Quito cultural center and its demand that the government not charge one of its members for attacking a television journalist.

Conaie’s leadership called for a state of “radicalization” among its members and installed an assembly to plan future action. “Our demands are non-negotiable,” said Jaime Vargas, Conaie president. “They are intended to end the reign of terror that the government is visiting upon our people.”

The organization’s demands are for the government to reinstate fuel subsidies that were eliminated by President Lenin Moreno October 2; that Interior Minister María Paula Romo and Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín be fired; and that the government assume responsibility for all deaths that occur during anti-government protests.

Teleamazonas reporter Freddy Paredes is carried to an ambulance Thursday after being struck by a rock. (El Comercio)

Vargas said he may also demand that the government turn over control of Ecuador’s oil operations to indigenous communities.

The ten police held by Conaie were publicly displayed Thursday morning on the state of the Agora Cultural Center with indigenous multi-color flags draped around their shoulders. The display angered Jarrín, who said the images reminded him of ISIS captives in the Middle East. The police were released Thursday night and turned over to United Nations officials.

Conaie also rejected a call by Romo for the capture and prosecution of the man who attacked Quito television journalist Freddy Paredes Thursday morning. Paredes was struck in the head by a rock after he left the Agora Center and his attacker is identifiable in a number of videos of the incident.

Paredes, who worked for Teleamazonas, is in critical condition at a Quito hospital.

Although Conaie condemned the attack on Paredes, it insists that the attacker not be prosecuted. “It was unfortunate but we need to put it aside and move on,” Vargas said. “Case closed.”

President Lenin Moreno did not respond to the Conaie demands, saying instead that talks with other indigenous groups and labor and transit unions were going well. “I believe we are working toward a solution,” he said in an interview.

In other protest news, 17 foreigners were arrested Thursday at the Quito airport, most of them Venezuelans, and charged with entering the country illegally to “spread chaos and unrest.”

In an afternoon press conference, Romo announced that the week-long anti-government protests have resulted in four deaths, including one at a roadblock west of Cuenca.